I want to share a path down memory’s lane with the person who is probably my most faithful follower on this blog.
We met nearly 40 years ago in England. We were both spending our sophomore year abroad in a liberal arts Christian college in the quaint community of Binfield in the region of Berkshire (pronounced Bark-shire) not far from London.
I’m sure that year for you was just as special as it was for me. My first time living outside of the US—it was a magical year of meeting new people from faraway places and navigating new cultures and languages. Although in theory we were both attending school I have no doubt that our GPAs that year didn’t match our performance during all our other years in college. At least mine didn’t. It took me a long time and an endless deal of effort to bring it back up to where it was before I went to Newbold after my year of literally traipsing about, frolicking and living it up.
Although there were a relatively large group of American students who’d elected to attend school there we each formed little groups that hung out with one another. Our friendships were cemented even further after the Christmas break when different groups headed out on the adventures of a lifetime traveling on the continent.
By chance, the girl’s dean conducted a worship a short time before our trip together about the power of 1st Corinthians 13. She told us that if you read the chapter once a day for a month it would change your life. We decided we’d use that month to conduct our own little experiment and see if it changed us. I have no doubt that our daily reminder that….
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…
had a great deal to do with our friendship staying intact despite the snow, rain, cold sometimes wretched sleeping conditions and all the other difficulties we faced during those three weeks we traveled together. I have vague memories of wanting to get angry but being reminded of what true love is all about and holding my tongue. Would I have remembered that advice throughout my life –I’m sure some things might have turned out differently than they did.
Debbie, you and me armed with Eurrail passes that permitted us to have unlimited access to the trains that crisscrossed the continent. We headed out for a three week winter wonderland voyage never to be forgotten. I know I had lots of mixed emotions as we began our journey with a wintry and somewhat wet crossing of the channel and then an overnight train into Paris. But not one to be easily daunted I was ready for all that lady luck had in mind for us.
I don’t recall how many days we stayed in Paris although I do remember we elected to spend more time than originally planned delighting in the scrumptious French bread, cheeses, yogurt, fruit and MUSEUMS, MUSEUMS and more MUSEUMS. I remember our first walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with its glittering white Christmas lights, the Eifel Tower, Notre Dames, Mont Blanc—the list is endless. Paris intoxicated me then and still does to this day. What an incredible city. I will NEVER tire of its beauty weary of its magic. Although I can’t speak for you I do think you shared my joy. One thing is FOR SURE I know we were all pretty amazed by the street side cabinette toilets that could be found all along the streets of Paris—much like portable Johnnies at building sites in the US.
Our stay in Rome came next. We planned it to be there on Christmas Eve and rented a small room in a pennsione not far from the Vatican City. Not to be outdone with our stay in Paris we attacked Rome with a vengeance. Remember our visit to the Vatican museum and that little man in the orange-colored coat stalked us for hours? Do you recall how we hung out in the post office writing post cards to friends and families hoping he would tire of waiting and leave. Then our walk on the sidewalk peeking in car side mirrors to see if he was still there? Weird! We finally lost him after running for several blocks…laughing delightedly at our “spy techniques” to lose the guy. Ah…the memories just flood back….the young GORGEOUS guy in the deli who offered us free cheese for a kiss…don’t recall who he made that offer to but with your long red hair, my blonde hair and Debbie’s general incredible good looks we garnered more than our share of attention (and pinches) during our visit there especially on the train crowded with soldiers we took from Rome to Florence. Those were the days for sure (I don’t get assaulted with many pinches or stares much anymore :-)–mind you not that I’m complaining!!!
Our long full day walk across Rome on Christmas Eve almost ended in disaster at the Three Coins fountain when we met up with some rather undesirable men. But a frantic run back to the fountain when we realized they were NOT GOOD NEWS saved us from God knows what when we were rescued by three American guys hanging out there too (two of which were GIs) who sensed we were in some kind of trouble. They gallantly offered to walk us back to our hotel—at least help us find a taxi. Then we accidently ran into one of the guys from our school (Rick remember?) just walking about on the streets of Rome that night too. You may recall how the three of us broke into the Colosseum that night little realizing the second floor was full of huge holes in the floor–we could so easily have fallen through to the lower level. That was so uncharacteristic of us–we were NOT that way normally. But is was crazy days and we were crazy kids for sure.
From Rome we ventured to Austria and Salzburg and then on to Munich where we confronted nosy old men who tried to read our journals as we crashed at the train station (BAD IDEA—worst place to hang out ANYWHERE in the world). But we were inexperienced travelers at that point. As I recall we were also coming down with some pretty horrific colds that some kind German mother staying in the same hostel as us nursed us for several days later. I don’t recall too much more of our journey after that although I know we spent some time in Brussels and then split up when I left for a short visit with my dad’s family in Flanders. I remember how I felt a bit lonely as you and Debbie headed off to adventures of your own and your way back to school.
The first year back in the States I went to the same college as your older brother. I recall that you accused me of having a crush on him. Athough I denied it at the time the truth of the matter is you were kind of right–even though you were wrong. I did like him in a special way but not like you thought. That summer he and I spent at college together he took a special interest in me and there were a couple of times when we traveled together to visit you at your parent’s home. For the first time in my life I felt like I had an older brother keeping an eye on me. lt certainly was a heady feeling—how I envied you that relationship. I don’t think I ever told you how lucky I thought you were to have such a tight bond with your brother. And such a cool brother at that! 🙂
You sang “One Hand One Heart” at my wedding. God what an incredible voice. Another friend (who also went to England to school with us) was a bit upset with me when I didn’t ask her to sing at my wedding particularly since she was a friend of my fiancée—had gone to school with him since kindergarten. In retrospect I don’t know why I didn’t ask you both to sing—but at the time I knew it had to be YOUR voice that sang that song. It was a perfect match. It was SO powerful. So beautiful.
Over the years we ran into one another off and on—later when you were working on your graduate studies at the same university where we were attending a special program to prepare us for moving overseas to be missionaries. We lost touch for years and then drifted back into one another’s lives.
As I look back on our friendship and our lives—I wonder about all the dreams and expectations we both held out for ourselves. Time can be a stern master and over the years things have happened in our lives that may not always have been in our master plan. And as we near 60 (can you BELIEVE THAT—we’re ALMOST 60) I can see how I’m wearing down and maybe “out” a little bit. Things don’t work quite as well as they used to—my eyes see a bit more blurry, my ears don’t catch all the conversations anymore, I get tired quicker and just don’t have the get-up-and-go that I used to. Each visit to the doctor seems to bring a new (and generally unwanted) revelation! And I know it’s happening to you too.
But—the thing that doesn’t change are all the wonderful friends who have passed through my life. Each of them has brought a special blessing and helped me to appreciate how wonderful this life can be.
So, my friend, you know who you are…this is for you! Thank you for being there. I am so blessed you have been a part of my life.
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